What to Do When A Parent Abuses You

What Adopted, Foster Kids Must Know About Emotional Abuse

Every adopted and foster kid, no matter our age, must learn about the subtlety of emotional abuse…especially when reuniting with first (2nd, 3rd, 4th…) family members.

I’ve heard that those who lose their first and subsequent families crave connection, like a starving man looking for food.

And, once we find that missing bio family member, we believe all is well in the world.

Many times we enter euphorically into relationships with unhealed moms and dads with unhealed pasts and chronic issues. And, some of them are downright mean.

We all can recognize physical abuse but emotional abuse is incredibly subtle. And, our propensity for connection blinds us to the hurtful elements of the relationship.


Here are some of the subtle signs of emotional abuse:

  1. Threaten you in subtle ways.  For example, when I met my birth mother, she kept saying, “This is very difficult for me.” At the same time, she would keep me at arms length through her friends.
  2.  Refuses to recognize and affirm your strengths and belittles your accomplishments. In my experience of several reunions with birth family, I’ve found that with unhealthy people, they want to convince me how wonderful they are and don’t ask a thing about me. This is a huge red flag.
  3. Hurtful humor. Making fun of you in a joking way. My birth mother and I had an unusual liking for ketchup. I was thrilled to find this synchronicity but when she share the likeness in a social setting, it was in a condemning way that she thought was funny.
  4. Behavior goes from one extreme to another. At one moment you’re being showered with a generous gift and the next minute, the parent is either silent, distant, or attacking.  My mother gave me a beautiful real gold pin from Tiffany’s the second day of our reunion. By the last day she was saying she wished she would have aborted me.
  5. Rejecting your kindness. During the reconciliation phases, I ordered a dozen roses for my birth mom. Two days later, the florist called to say that the dozen roses I ordered for her had been refused for delivery.  He added that in decades of business, he’d never experienced that.


And, dear ones, even if we’re being abused, oftentimes we have trouble letting go.  We keep trying, and trying, and trying to re-establish connection.

About two and one-half years after the reunion rejection, I was still sending her Valentine cards and a dozen roses for her birthday.

For me, as a Christ follower, I believed in reconciliation.

After all, isn’t that what God asks us to do in conflicted relationships?

Maybe in conflicted relationships, but not in abuse!


About that time, I was studying about Abraham in the Bible. Remember him? He was 99 when God told him the he and Sara were going to have a child.

Many of us know the story.

Sara set up an intimate relationship between her handmaiden and Abraham. Her name was Haggai and she conceived a son named Ishmael.

Nice plan Sara.

Only problem?

Sara arranged it HER way…not God’s.

When Haggai’s child, Ishmael, was growing up in the same household, he and Haggai caused much discord between Sarai and Abraham.

Finally, God told Abraham to send Haggai and Ishmael away.


Yes, He told this birth father to send away the contentious one.



That was enough for me!

If Abraham could send her away, I could send my mother away, without guilt.

And, when we finally come to say goodbye to abuse, it is just the beginning of tremendous personal growth.

PS–I’m not a theologian.







2 responses to “What Adopted, Foster Kids Must Know About Emotional Abuse”

  1. Sherrie Eldridge, Adoption Author Avatar

    Yes, but God has redeemed it so that I can help others going through the same. Thanks, Paige.

  2. Paige Adams Strickland Avatar

    So sorry you were treated so wrongfully…

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